Should citizenship education be more about skills or knowledge?

Ade Sofola, Director of Youth Act, argues that as society is changing so rapidly for young people citizenship education should focus more on skills than on facts.

(Apologies for the poor video quality. We used a different camera and are still learning!)

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

8 thoughts on “Should citizenship education be more about skills or knowledge?

  1. unsurprisingly I agree đŸ™‚

    Obviously the two are not exclusive – knowledge can be/is obtained through the acquisition & development of skills – it’s the starting point that I think is critical and I agree that citizenship education should be setting out to support young people to develop the skills they need to become good/active/understanding? citizens

    The old ‘knowledge is power’ thing doesn’t work how it used to – more accurately now ‘knowledge is cheap’, using it well however requires some skills…..

  2. Me too! I think both Ade and mas make excellent points. I think it’s very important that all subjects/areas of study focus on how knowledge can be found, evaluated and used. If we can’t rely on the old secure sources of knowledge, we need to ensure we give people a way to decipher what is fact and what is opinion, misleading, selective or just wrong.
    Doing this through Citizenship takes it to a new level. Many subjects have certain rules we can apply, e.g. science: peer review, structure of experiment; history: primary/secondary sources. All the aspects wrapped in Citizenship require a more complex set of skills and investigation to analyse.

  3. It seems to me that unfortunately there is a growing movement for citizenship education to move away from social/moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy (active citizenship), and towards identity and diversity.

    This would seem to be a merging of the two definitions of citizenship, i.e. education based political and community literacy, etc, and that of identity and values as used for naturalisation purposes. This is something that was supported by Bernard Crick and David Blunkett as they moved from the DfES to the Home Office.

    See ‘Education for Inclusive Citizenship’ by Dina Kiwan, published by Routlegde

    For my part I believe that the term ‘citizenship’ being used in this way has diluted the education and skills development area of the subject and puts at risk the very priorities that Ade Sofola highlights, especially with the likely hood of a Conservative Government embracing the later of these terms and placing them within an educational context.

  4. Effective citizens are informed citizens and individuals who have the confidence and the skills to act, to drive change – so, we need to get away from age-old and sterile debates between knowledge and skills and deliver education programmes that provide knowledge and involve learners in participation – so that confidence and skills are developed.

    And of course there are wider benefits to such ‘citizenship-rich’ approaches (as we call them at the Foundation). First, they help to close the participation gap between those who do get involved and those that don’t (too many participation projects speak primarily to those who already have the participation bug and risk widening the gap). Second, they build self-belief and self-esteem. Third, they build exactly the employability skills that employers crave: the ability to speak in public, to problem solve, to negotiate, to present. And in these tough times that should be attractive to politicians of all persuasions!

  5. “age-old and sterile debates between knowledge and skills” good luck with that – in the coming months I have a suspicion it’s going to be debated considerably more, not less, as we approach an election.

    That said I agree with the substance of what you say Tony albeit with some caveats – 1. that the choice not be active needs to be respected so long as the person feels confident and capable of acting should they need/wish to (ie. the development of skills to take community action over forcing young people into community action) 2. I agree a lot of participation projects do seem lopsided towards those already active – but those who are active are worthy of support too – I think there’s a tendency sometimes for a ‘engaged’ vs ‘disengaged’ stance in these kinds of debates about who should be supported/targeted but to me one can be used to support the other

  6. @mas & @asher am glad you agree:) I think the future of citizenship education lies in the skills development because as mas says knowledge is cheap now!

    @matt I think part of the challenge for citizenship educators is the fact that the term citizenship can have such a wide range of meanings (i.e. including political literacy and issues around identity and diversity) We need to be clearer about what we mean by citizenship – whether we are focussed on a legal definition of the act of citizenship which might include issues of identity regarding naturalisation or a more social definition that might include issues of political literacy and active citizenship in communities. What do you think?

  7. @Ade I agree that this is a challenge, but it makes the job at hand more complex that it needs to be. Teachers, young people, parents, politicians and the media all regularly get confused by the use of this term. The genie is some what out of the bottle however and we now have to live with these two definitions, which are at the same time separate and inter-related.

    With a growth in calls for citizenship to be integrated into other subjects and for it to cease to function as a separate curriculum area, plus the possible integration of the ‘identity and diversity’ agenda, I am becoming more concerned that the areas of skills development, community involvement, experiential learning and political literacy are at risk of being sidelined within a crowded and demanding curriculum, which does still values test results and the gaining of knowledge over the development of life skills and social/community responsibility.

  8. @Matt I understand and agree with your concerns given the challenges for citizenship education in the future but I think we (those who see the value of political literacy, community involvement and active participation skills) must re-state the case for those skills for the protection of our society and democracy. It is interesting that the exams boards have all managed to include a community project in the new GCSE citizenship which shows that these skills can be examined in an increasingly exam-centric educational system

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